Race Relations in the USA

A set of flash cards for everything you need to know for the Race Relations topic in the AQA History B Depth Studies.

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  • Created by: L Lawliet
  • Created on: 21-05-13 21:06

After the Abolition of Slavery 1870

After the abolition of slavery, racism continued, especially in the Deep South. Life did and didn't improve for black people in several ways:


  • Equal Civil Rights
  • Right to vote, stand for election and sit on juries or be judges
  • Right to legally own land and have children without fear of separation
  • Protection from Northern soldiers
  • Set up of the Freedman's Bureau, which helped ex-slaves to set up lives (free education and health care)
  • Sharecropping allowed workers to receive payment for their work


  • When the soldiers left in 1877, many state governments chose to prosecute black people
  • Soon the right to vote was taken away
  • Schools were burned and students were beaten up and many fell heavily in debt through overspending.
  • The KKK and the White League were set up, and a series of harsh laws was passed.
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The Jim Crow Laws

These were a series of laws passed in the Deep South to segregate Black people from White people.

  • In Arizona, marriage between black and white people was banned
  • The 'Black Codes' limited Civil Rights
  • No votes for black people were ensured because of the impossible and biased tests.
  • Blacks could not buy houses in several areas.
  • Blacks could not work in certain companies or skilled trades.
  • In Texas, separate facilities were needed in the parks of the state.
  • In North Carolina, books could not be exchanged by white and coloured schools.
  • In Georgia, restaurants were exclusive to races.
  • In Florida, schools for whites and Negroes were conducted separately.
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WASPs and the KKK

There were two main oppressors of the Black people in America at the time.


This was a type of anti-black organisation. The abbreviation stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They were keen on the preservation of White American culture.

Klu Klux Klan (KKK)

This was another anti-black organisation, whose purpose was to make sure Black Americans never became equal citizens. They were well known for beating and even lynching black people. They were, and became again, very popular amongst white racists and feared by Black people.

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The Brown versus Topeka Case

The NACCP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) used the incident of Oliver Brown, whose daughter was expected to walk 21 blocks to her school when there was a school for whites nearer by, as an example for the District Court to desegregate schools. There were several positive and negative outcomes of this case:


  • The US Supreme Court banned segregation in schools on the 17/05/1954
  • Black children got more Civil Rights
  • In 1956, all elementary schools were organised by area rather than skin colour
  • In the southern states, where racism was high, 22 senators issued the 'Southern Manifesto', in which they promised to do all they could to end segregation


  • Membership of the KKK increased dramatically, as more people had reason to be racist
  • In 1962, segregated schools still existed in Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama
  • In 1964, only 2% of Black Americans in 11 southern states attended a multi-cultural school
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Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

On the 01/12/1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking the bus segregation law when she refused to get up from her seat for a white person on an overcrowded bus. The consequences, in the short term, were that she was fined and immediately sacked from her job in a department store. This lead to a one day boycott of buses, but soon turned into a longer boycott, which later became known as the Montgomery bus boycott. Black Americans walked to work or started carpooling where available. This boycott lasted 12 months.

Consequences of the Bus Boycott in 1956:

  • Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks became targets for white racists. Rosa had to move.
  • Bus companies lost lots of money
  • Over 17,000 Black Americans grouped together for mass carpooling
  • Many carpool drivers and people waiting for lifts were arrested
  • Martin Luther King was arrested for speeding and his house was bombed
  • Local churches aided carpooling
  • The US Supreme Court made bus segregation illegal. This law came into effect on the 20/12/1956

The bus boycott shows that Black Americans had not won the fight for racial equality, because the white racists were still besotted with their ideas of white supremacy, which increased.

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Living Conditions for Black Americans

In comparison to the living conditions for White Americans, the accomodation for Black Americans was appalling.

  • Many Black Americans left the southern states because of the Jim Crow Laws in order to get more opportunities
  • Lived in ancient, tiny homes, especially when compared to luxurious, new homes for white people.
  • Old-fashioned instalments such as ovens.
  • Standard and quality of instalment such as kitchen cupboards was higher in white homes than black homes.
  • Storage space limited, and methods for simple chores such as storing rubbish were archaic for the time.

Conditions were not much better in the northern states:

  • Although there were more opportunities in places such as Chicago, still the unemployment rate for black people in the 1950s was double that of whites.
  • Furthermore, 50% of black people were still living in poverty.
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U.S. Supreme Court ban bus segregation

The U.S. Supreme Court made bus segregation illegal. This law came into effect on the 20/12/1956.

Back in June 1956, two federal judges ruled that the segregation law was unconstitutional (meaning that it didn't fit the U.S. Constitution, a series of rules that every American citizen must follow). The Court agreed and, after a failed appeal attempt to change that decision, segregation was made illegal the following month.

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The Little Rock Nine

Below is the list of events that led to the incidents of the Little Rock Nine, who were nine black students chosen to attend Little Rock High School in Arkansas.

  • After the ban in 1954, Arkansas, like many other states at the time, did little to desegregate schools.A local newspaper, 'The Arkansas State Press', launched a campaign to force the desegregation, backed by the school board and the city mayor.
  • Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas, did not agree with the campaign. When the nine black students tried to enter the school, he sent the National Guard to stop them from entering.
  • On the first day back, the black students did not come. On the second day, they were prevented from entering. This was all televised throughout the USA for 18 days.
  • On 23/09/1954, the nine students were smuggled into the school. A white racist mob heard this and started to attack black people on the street.
  • In retaliation, President Eisenhower, after trying to negotiate with the governor during this time, order 1100 paratroopers to escort the Little Rock Nine to school.
  • These paratroopers stayed until November, and the National Guardsmen for the rest of the year.
  • Only one graduated due to the impossible learning environment. Four of the parents lost their jobs, and membership of the KKK increasing.
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Desegregation on Buses

In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on buses moving from one state to another (interstate buses) was illegal.

This included ending segregation in bus terminals, waiting rooms and even restaurants. Two students tested the change in the law soon afterwards by daring to sit at the front of the bus. This led to the idea of the 'Freedom Rides'. See the next card.

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The Freedom Rides

A group of 13 people (seven black, six white) were picked to go on the journey from Washington D.C. through the Deep South (where the most opposition would be). Below is the sequence of events that made up the rides:

  • On the 4/05/1961, the Freedom Riders left Washington D.C.
  • On the 14/05/1961, the Freedom Riders left Atlanta for Birmingham, Alabama. Members of the KKK got onto the bus and beat up some of the Freedom Riders and slashing the tyres.
  • On the 15/05/1961, no bus driver was willing to take them further, so they flied to New Orleans.
  • On the 17/05/1961, 10 riders arrived in Birmingham to continue the journey by bus. They were arrested and taken 150 miles away. However, they returned, determined to continue, but could not find a driver.
  • On the 20/05/1961, the riders were on their way back to Montgomery. Some KKK members attacked the bus. Some riders were seriously hurt.
  • On the 21/05/1961, Martin Luther King spoke to the riders. The church they were in was surrounded and had o be protected by the National Guard.
  • On the 24/05/1961, 27 Freedom Riders travelled from Montgomery to Jackson. They were arrested for going into the white-only waiting room. 328 more riders were arrested by the end of the summer.
  • Another law came into effect on the 01/11/1961 to end interstate segregation.
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The Freedom Marches in Washington D.C.

Martin Luther King, along with several others, organised the Washington Marches, leading to his famous speech.

Because of the large scale unemployment and poverty faced by Black Americans in 1962, marches were organised for 'jobs and freedom'. Between 1962 and 1963, hundreds of marches and demonstrations were planned and held peacefully. When marches could not get to Washington D.C., the blac people held marches to their town halls and people abroad marched to the US Embassies. The climax was held on the 28/08/1963, and finished at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave his 'I have a dream' speech.

In this speech, he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites would live together in harmony as equals. King summed up the Civil Rights Movement, highlighting the main problems and issues that still faced black people in the USA. He also stressed the importance of non-violent resistance, explaining that though they faced injustice and violence, people must not react with extreme protest. Lastly, King vividly expressed his vision of a better future.

Soon after the Washington Marches, the President, John F. Kennedy, decided to meet with the organisers of the Washington Marches to congratulate them on their success.

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The Events of Birmingham, Alabama

Less than three weeks later from the Washington Marches, a bomb exploded at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

The bomb killed four young girls. This led to race riots in the area, and by the end of the day, two more youths had been killed - a black 16 year old and a black 15 year old. The bomb in Birmingham was intended to stop the integration of the schools and to scare Americans who had been demonstrating for an end to the segregation. Instead, the bombing shocked the public and helpd build supports for civil rights legislation.

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Civil Rights Act of 1964

After the Washington Freedom Marches, President Kennedy wanted to push forward and new Civil Rights Movement. However, before it could have been passed, for girls were killed by bombing in Alabama, and the President himself was assassinated in Dallas, 1963. The Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, became President and passed the Act, so that it became law on the 02/07/1964.

Ways in which it was successful

  • The Act outlawed discrimination in theatres, restaurants, hotels and motels
  • It made it illegal to give government money to organisations that continued segregation.
  • It encouraged the desegregation of public schools.
  • All government organisation were desegregated.

Ways in which it wasn't successful

  • It didnt't give Black Americans the suffrage; they still had to rely on white people to make changes for them.
  • Private clubs could continue to be 'white only'.
  • It did not strongly enforce the desegregation of schools.
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Struggle for the Suffrage

The suffrage was something the black people wanted sorely. Below are three events that led to this becoming a sort of reality:

  • On the 07/01/1965, Martin Luther King organised a march from Selma to Montgomery for the suffrage. However, after the marchers had gone but a short distance, they were attacked by the state troopers, in whose attack, tear gas was fired and the marchers were beaten and whipped. This later became known as 'Bloody Sunday', and was televised. The march was stopped for the safety of the marchers.
  • On the 09/05/1965, a second march was started, but Martin Luther King ordered it to stop when he feared another attack by state troopers.
  • President Johnson reacted  to the marches by implementing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was passed in order to to speed up the process of getting all Americans, including blacks, able to register for voting. It had been promised in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was signed by the President on the 06/08/1965.
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Race Riots and Marches in Chicago

Race Riots

In August 1965, riots took place in Watts, a black area within Los Angeles. In the six days of rioting, 34 people were killed.

Marches in Chicago

Despite the Watts Riots, Martin Luther King felt that the injustices in Chicago needed his attention more. He began his campaign there in January 1966, but it did not go well. King continued to challenge the City Hall, and even taped a list of demands to the door of the Hall. Tension was hight and, in the hot summer, riots were common. King was now losing some support. Campaigners were divided as to whether a non-violent or violent would be best.

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Assassination of Martin Luther King

On the 18/03/1968, Martin Luther King marched at the front of 13,000 rubbish collectors who were demanding better pay and working conditions in Memphis, Tennessee. This soon turned into an uncontrollable riot, so he ended the march before returning to Atlanta. After returning to Memphis to prove non-violent methods would work, he made his famous last speech.

This speech was known as 'I have seen the promised land'. Not only did this speech inspire the protesters to strive towards freedom, but also he seemed to predict his own death by acknowledging the idea that he may not live to see the day when the American people reached the promised land.

On the 04/04/1968 he was shot in the jaw whilst talking to friends on his motel room balcony and died after emergency surgery. His funeral was on the 8/04/1968 and it was attended by over 50,000 mourners. After his funeral, race riots erupted in over 100 cities. The rubbish collectors' strike had ended in Memphis and this led to an agreement. A further Civil Rights Act had been passed a week later which could have been passed as a result of the assassination. This meant you could no longer refuse to sell or rent a house to someone on the basis of race or colour. You could no longer advertise the sale or rental of a property and refer to race or colour, You could neither threaten, nor intimidate someone living in a rented or bought house.

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Mexico Olympics 1986

On the morning of the 16/10/1968, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman made a political protest for Black American Rights at the award ceremony for the 200m sprint.

Although many people agreed with Martin Luther King's peaceful marches, some wanted to make a larger impact on the protest. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two of the fastest runners on the planet, decided to make a political protest along with Australia's Peter Norman at their medal ceremony on behalf of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). Therefore, on the morning of the 16. October, the two Americans walked to the podium wearing only black socks (representing black poverty), and performed the Black Power salute with black gloves (the right glove representing black power and the left glove representing black unity). Norman wore an OPHR badge, Smith wore a black scarf to represent black pride, and Carlos wore beads in memory of all the Black Americans who had been lynched, killed and died as part of the slave trade. This caused much outrage, because the Olympic Games were not to be used for political protest, All three athletes were highly criticized by worldwide media thereafter.

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The Black Power Movement

This was a more violent organisation who were also trying to gain more civil rights for Black Americans. Under Stokely Carmichael, the SNCC (a group of non-violent young protesters) became an all-black organisation. This was because Carmichael himself believed a violent approach would be better, and many believed that, in order to be free and equal, the black community had to separate themselves from the white community.

There were several groups and important individuals in the Black Power Movement:

  • Stokely Carmichael and the SNCC.
  • Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.
  • The Black Panther Party, founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Searle.

Some of the key ideas of the Black Power Movement included:

  • Improve understanding of black culture and recognising African roots.
  • To take pride in all aspects of their lives and to see themselves as different.
  • To separate themselves from white people and to protect the black communities.
  • Instilling community programmes.
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Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King was a very famous leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He worked as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and was a member of the NACCP.King had two main roles in the campaign:

Protest Spokesperson: He gave his first televised speech and after January in 1956, he went on tour.He took the first desegregated ride on a Montgomery bus when the laws were changed on the 21. December 1956 who was a national figure in the movement who helped the Washington marches, and gave his 'I have a dream speech'.

Protest Organiser: Formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, whose aims were to "improve the general status of Montgomery, to improve race relations, and to uplift the general tenor of the community". Campaigned for the suffrage of Black Americans.Supported the SNCC, Freedom Rides (1961), and the Albany Movement (who tried to desegregate all public facilities). On the 13. April 1963, he participated in a protest march, leading to his arrest.After the 20. April, he planned the Children's Crusade, designed to involve young protesters and gained.Helped the Washington marches, and gave his 'I have a dream speech'.

On the 10/12/1964, Martin Luther King receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway for his non-violent approach to a solution to racial discrimination in the U.S.A.

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This was so hepful ! Thank you !

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